Alycia’s top tips for seminary survival

So… It’s long overdue, but it’s complete. Here are some handy hints on getting through Seminary well. These are some of the lessons I learnt and I hope these lessons may also prove helpful to you. They are (in no particular order):

  1. Read more from the library

So you got your assignment and your thinking, “where do I begin?” Easy, begin with reading. Before you can voice your opinions on the subject you should find out what other academics are saying about it. Make use of the Vose library and resources; books, articles, catalogues, students etc. Find whatever you can on you assignment topic and start reading. A fantastic lecturer once told me you should set a goal to have 1 reference for every 100 words you write. I hardly ever achieved that goal, but it really did help me to read more broadly on each topic and find my voice within the subject. I also learnt to read smartly; that is, read a variety of writers (my lecturer also recommend reading people you agree with and disagree with as this hones your theological stance), remember journal articles are shorter than books, and instead of reading a whole book just read any chapter that relates to your topic.

  1. Quote Thoughtfully

I learnt very quickly that often you pick up a resource in the hopes of reading it and finding a gold mine of quotes, only to discover it is nowhere near as helpful as you anticipated. I decided very early on that If I took the time to read something then it needed to go in my bibliography. So I committed to finding 1 quote from every resource I used and including it in my work. I would look for anything usable, such as: a statement I agreed with or disagreed with, an opinion on the subject, a summary of someone else’s opinion, an interesting interpretation etc. I would then slot it somewhere in my assignment (sometimes even in a footnote) so I could add it to my reference list at the end. This I found was an effective method to increasing my reference list.

Having said that, I would not recommend spending hours on a fruitless resource. The goal here is to make the most of your time reading. My husband would move on to something else after 10 mins without something usable. In order to avoid fruitless texts the following may prove helpful. If I found a GREAT resource I began to look at the references that writer used. I would then source these texts and read them. This can be a useful technique for finding handy resources that relate to your topic.

On another note, choosing the right quote can make a significant difference to your essay. When I would read through a text I would write quotes down as I read. If my mind wandered, I would note next to the appropriate quote what I had been thinking. In some cases, these additional thoughts became usable paragraphs in my main essay. Often I would have plenty of quotes I needed to cull through. I found myself more often using longer quotes to support or add to my argument and paraphrasing many into my own words.

  1. Avoid Rabbit holes

To put it another way, keep the main thing the main thing. It’s easy enough to find your interests pulled off topic as you read others works. Although these sideline issues may be fascinating, they offer little merit to your arguments and have a tendency to pull you off track. Avoid delving into them in the main body of your essays. Having said that, adjacent issues to your topic can be worth a summarised mention (just avoid further discussion of them and keep them down to no more than a couple of sentences).  If you want to talk about something more in depth then this is where your footnotes become extremely useful.

  1. Make use of headings and subheadings

Although it my sound over-simplistic, the difference between a passable piece of work and a great one can be the inclusion of headings and subheadings. In my final year at college I started making it my goal that someone could simply read my intro, headings, subheadings and conclusion and know what my essay was about and the angle I was taking. The truth is that using headings and subheadings both summarised and ordered my thoughts. Thus, the line of thought was more clear to the reader and made it easier for me to stay on track. I can quite honestly say I noticed my grades go from credits to distinctions when I applied headings and subheadings.

  1. Utilise footnotes

When I first started at college I remember struggling to make the 750 word count. By the end of my college years I remember struggling to bring down an essay to a 3000 word count. In these cases, footnotes were, and still are, a students best friend. Rather than having to delete good thought after good thought, sentences of argument could be condensed and moved into footnotes as a means of bolstering my main body. Footnotes were a field of additional remarks, observations, information and opinions. May I encourage you to utilise your footnotes for more than merely references. More often than not, footnotes can be the place for the first person voice, ‘rabbit hole’ mentions, and sideline arguments.

  1. Personal thoughts are as salt to your essay 

A rookie mistake in academic writing is thinking you’ve got to force the reader into holding your own view. A tendency to overuse the first person voice, overstate theological truths, and simply speak for a long period of time without a reference (a sign of a lack of interaction with other voices).  Academic essays are not blogs and should not be written in a similar manner. Keep the tone academic; which means letting your opinion  come through the way you order thought, the way you portray clashing opinions and the subtle remarks you make throughout. Your voice/ opinion is evident enough in your writing without drawing attention to it. Therefore, think of personal thoughts as salt to your essay. Too much, and it will be spat out. Too little and its missed in it subtlety. Well balanced, makes the reader hungry for more.

On a side note, sometimes we get carried away thinking that if we don’t speak truth loud enough, then we fail in our duty to others; them knowing and believing the truth. Herein lies a problem, we take on a duty that is not our own to ensure others believe the truth. However, we are responsible only for what we say, not for what others believe. Knowing this may help you to relax in your writing, avoid forceful tones and overstating points. State truth clearly once. Leave the rest to God.

  1. Proof read aloud

An easy way to get the maximum marks for your hard efforts is to proof read. Bad grammar and spelling mistakes often cost me 10% or more of my final grade. It was needless and easily avoidable. Learn from my mistakes. Read your essay out loud and you will pick up nearly every mistake. Indeed, reading out loud will show up more mistakes then skim reading or reading silently. Take the time to finish well.

  1. Enjoy it!

Don’t be so quick to finish things that you miss out on savouring the journey it takes you on. I found it better to do less, so I could do it well. Rushing and enjoyment were as polar opposites. Can I encourage you take delight in your studies. This may mean saying no to other activities in order to focus your attention on your study. However, shifting your priorities delivers great rewards. There are also great bonuses in spending time on campus and making lifelong friendships (usually over a cup of tea or a game of table tennis).

  1. Remember your calling

You are bound to get discouraged at some point in your studies. Remember it is not a mistake that you are here. God did not bring you this far just to drop you. Hold fast to the memories of your calling and place your trust in Christ to get you through. You are meant to be here.

  1. Ask for help

Everyone at Vose is on your side! If your struggling, overwhelmed or unsure, just ask a lecturer or friend for help and some prayer. Lecturers are more than willing to give extensions and help you achieve your best.

You are doing an incredible job!

I hope these things might help you along the way. If I can pray for anything for you at all, please let me know.

God bless,

Alycia Randell

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